Legal History Made: The First FGM Conviction

Lily Frost - Writer & Deputy Editor

On February 1st 2019, the United Kingdom took a large step towards eventually ending the practice of FGM in the United Kingdom. The court that saw this history in the making was the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales, also known as The Old Bailey. The court heard a trial against a Mother and Father for subjecting their three year old daughter to FGM. The trial was ongoing for three weeks with the Jury deliberating for less than a day. The Jury cleared the Father of all charges, whilst finding the Mother guilty of the charges made against her. This conviction marks the first case of its kind with it being the first trial in the UK’s legal history where a defendant is found guilty under the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003. The trial was upsetting for all parties involved , however the outcome of this trial has meant that the child has been given justice.

The Defense’s Version of Events 
The Mother’s and Father’s respective legal council upheld a narrative throughout the trial. This version of events was that the victim was playing with her father in their garden. Once she got hungry, she asked her father for a biscuit, so he got her one and they carried on playing outside. Then, when her Father went to the bathroom, she climbed onto the kitchen surfaces. She then reached for the biscuit cupboard and fell on to the open cupboard door. The cupboard door that she fell onto had a metal strip along it, and that is how the victim sustained her injuries. After she had fell, her parents came into the kitchen and immediately called the emergency services.

The Prosecution’s Version of Events 
The Crown Prosecution Service, led by Caroline Carberry QC, insisted that a very different version of events took place. This narrative requires context surrounding the Mother who, whilst not religious, was heavily invested in Witchcraft. The Mother arranged a person that she refers to as ‘the Witch’, to come over to their family home and conduct FGM on her daughter. Once the non-medical procedure was finished and the victim was badly bleeding, the Mother then called the emergency services telling them that the child had fallen on the metal cupboard. Over the period of two police interviews, the victim had told police that she had fallen on the cupboard. However, due to the complexity of the story and the age of the victim, the police believed that she had been told this story to rehearse and retell to investigative figures.

Evidence/Witnesses
Each person or piece of evidence that was brought forward was intended to make the Jury question the validity of the version of the events that the defence presented. The Prosecution argued that whilst both defendants were on bail, the Mother had used various witchcraft, ‘curses’ to deter anyone that was looking into her case. These curses came in the form of oddly placed objects found in the family home. These objects included  40 frozen limes with the names of social workers, police and investigating figures written on paper and placed within the limes. The prosecution argued that the Mother believed the limes to be a ‘curse’, used to silence the people named in the limes.
Additionally, police found two ox tongues which were bound in wire and embedded with screws and nails. In the middle of the tongue there was a small knife inserted. The prosecution argued that the mother believed this to be a similar ‘curse’ used to ‘shut up’ the investigative team. The Old Bailey heard voicemails from the Mother to the Father, instructing him to remember to prepare the limes to, ‘freeze their mouths’. The prosecution made the case that the Mother heavily believed in witchcraft, and used these methods as an attempt to stop investigatory figures looking into her and ultimately as a way of avoiding legal prosecution.
The lead prosecutor also used medical experts and doctors as witnesses who testified that the injuries the victim sustained could not have been from falling onto a metal cupboard. These experts questioned the validity of the defence’s story by confirming how much blood there would have been, if the victim had fallen onto the metal cupboard. The story fell apart when questioned further; forensic scientists testified that there was no blood found on or of a close radius to the cupboard. This corroborated the prosecution’s version of events, as whilst the victim may have fallen off the counter but she could not have sustained her injuries there.

The Conviction
This was an extremely difficult and traumatising case, for the Jurors and every other person sitting in the court and the public gallery. Whilst this conviction has ensured that the victim has justice, it is important to note that FGM is a crime which the victims live with the consequences their whole lives. Therefore, whilst it is indeed a landmark case, it is also a case that requires reflection. FGM is a common crime against girls and women which is too often not talked about. Charities such as Save The Children and Forward UK are both based in the United Kingdom that actively help give victim support to those who have been subjected to FGM.
This conviction, whilst upsetting in its nature, is ultimately a break through in legal history and will hopefully give victims the confidence they need in the system to come forward and, as a country we can begin to close the gap of unreported cases of Female Genital Mutilation. Barrister Charlotte Proudman, who specialises in FGM summarised, ‘The conviction is hugely significant, securing justice for the girl but also in sending a strong message that this crime will not be tolerated’. Since this prosecution, citizens have become more aware of the crime and I believe this message has been transmitted across the United Kingdom. However, it is not just victims who may come to have more confidence in the system though this conviction, with this spotlight on FGM, it will give teachers, social workers, midwives and doctors the confidence in the system to become even more vigilant, knowing that there has been a successful conviction.

I would like to thank Janet Walford OBE, whom I met and befriended whilst attending some of the trial. If I had not met Janet, my interest would have never spiked and I would have never researched the history of FGM in this country, nor would I have written this article.

Editor's Note: Since the release of this article the convicted defendant was given an 11 year prison sentence out of a maximum 14 years.



Sources:
O’Dowd, Adrian. “Improve Reporting of Female Genital Mutilation, MPs Tell Doctors.” BMJ: British Medical Journal, vol. 350, 2015. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/26520293.
Muthumbi, Jane, et al. “Female Genital Mutilation: A Literature Review of the Current Status of Legislation and Policies in 27 African Countries and Yemen.” African Journal of Reproductive Health / La Revue Africaine De La Santé Reproductive, vol. 19, no. 3, 2015, pp. 32–40., www.jstor.org/stable/24877829
.https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/fgm-female-genital-mutilation-uk-london-girl-three-man-woman-charged-court-prosecutions-a8496576.html
https://www.savethechildren.org.uk/what-we-do/health/fgm
https://forwarduk.org.uk/key-issues/fgm/
https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/feb/01/fgm-mother-of-three-year-old-first-person-convicted-in-uk
https://furnivalchambers.co.uk/barrister/caroline-carberry/


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